The rate at which software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) are being consumed as a cloud service appears to be accelerating in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A global survey of 750 IT professionals conducted by the market research firm Vanson Bourne on behalf of Barracuda Networks finds over half of respondents (52%) are looking to acquire an SD-WAN solution via a cloud provider, with Microsoft Azure being cited as the most preferred option.
Only 16% said they prefer an SD-WAN from an independent vendor, while 15% would opt for a telecommunications provider. Another 12% said they would rely on a reseller.
Klaus Gheri, vice president of network security for Barracuda Networks, said the survey suggests that as application workloads move into the cloud, more IT organizations want to centralize acquisition of networking services alongside compute and storage. As such, he said, providers of SD-WAN appliances such as Barracuda Networks will need to evolve to extend the basic SD-WAN capabilities provided by cloud service providers.
At the same time, Gheri noted that way applications are being accessed is also evolving as more employees are working from home. Rather than directly accessing applications running in a local data center or office, many organizations are routing access requests to those applications through their cloud service provider. That approach reduces costs by using a public internet connection to access to cloud service, which then routes that request over a virtual private network (VPN) to a local data center.
Given the egress charges a cloud service provider requires, that approach may not reduce costs in the case of every workload. However, it may reduce costs by reducing the amount of network traffic moving across a leased MPLS line, he noted.
Gheri said the rise of the cloud as a networking conduit illustrates how varied SD-WAN implementations have become. Organizations increasingly need some capability at the client level to automatically determine which network path makes the most sense for any request based on cost and latency requirements.
In the meantime, frustrations with VPN clients continue to mount. Most VPN implementations were designed to support a small percentage of employees for occasional access. With more employees working from home more frequently, many organizations are reconsidering their SD-WAN strategies. In addition to being able to scale services more easily, Gheri noted SD-WANs also afford organizations the opportunity to implement zero-trust networking services to better isolate application environments in the event of a security breach.
Over the last few years, SD-WANs have been one of the fastest-growing categories in IT. The Barracuda survey found 23% of respondents have already deployed SD-WAN, with another 51% either in the process of deploying or expecting to deploy one within the next 12 months.
Clearly, competition between cloud service providers, telecommunication carriers and independent providers of SD-WAN services will intensify in the months ahead. The challenge facing IT teams now is determining to what degree they want to be directly involved in managing SD-WAN networks versus simply consuming SD-WAN services on an as-needed basis.